As a continuation of our series on career path alternatives, we have asked Jeffrey Bischoff, PhD to provide insights on his career choices and experience working in industry.
What is your title and what division of Orthopaedics do you work in (Trauma, Joint Replacement, Spine…)?
I am Director of Biomechanics Research, within the corporate research division of Zimmer Biomet. As a corporate function, we support all divisions, though the bulk of our efforts is in joint replacement.
Where do you fit into the organization?
Research is a group that rolls up under our Chief Technology Officer. The lead in our research group is our Vice President, and I report to him. Within research, there are several other technical groups outside of biomechanics, based on either technical focus or geography.
Could you describe your main job responsibilities?
My group is charged with two main responsibilities. One responsibility is to provide advanced biomechanical knowledge or direct testing/analysis support to product development efforts or initiatives within other units (such as manufacturing, quality, and regulatory) of the company. A second key responsibility is to identify, incubate, and/or develop new tools, partnerships, methods, or other ‘stuff’ that has a biomechanical bent to it and which has the potential to positively impact patient care through our products, services, education, or other mechanisms.
Can you describe your career ladder?
I was on an academic path up through a junior faculty position at the University of South Carolina. At USC, I assisted to put together a new biomedical engineering degree program for the university and developed a research group focused primarily on soft tissue biomechanics. I joined Zimmer in 2006, primarily as a means to get more involved with applied research. I joined the company as a simulation engineer, which at the time largely entailed performing finite element analysis in support of product development or research efforts. Since then, I have had various positions in biomechanics research, bouncing between technical roles and managerial roles.
Can you describe why you decided to move from academia to industry?
The research program that I was developing academically was technically interesting, and it was exciting to embark on research independence. I had great support at USC, from mentors within and outside of the department. However, the research trajectory that I had been progressing along, either intentionally or accidentally, was largely in basic biomechanics research – technically challenging, but not too directly related to clinical practice. And I definitely was feeling the internal pull to re-orient my work to something more translational. This opened my eyes to start looking at industry positions. At the same time, as is often the case, realities of life had my wife and I looking to return closer to our roots in the Midwest. The position at Zimmer hit on both of these fronts, so we took the leap.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in transitioning from academia to industry?
The biggest challenge was an internal one – letting go of the academic pathway which I had been following so long, and fully accepting that industrial research could offer the intellectual challenges that I had found in academia (while also providing the more direct connectivity to health care). In practice, this internal change took probably a year or two – it was about that long before I took all the half-written proposals and papers from academia that I kept in my back pocket ‘just in case’, and dumped them in the trash can!
What do you like most about your current position?
The biggest upside for me is the ability to tap into my technical knowledge and skillset to very clearly contribute to patient care. There are a number of products in the field right now that benefitted from my intellectual energy and hard work; or as I have moved more into management, from the support of my team. In all these cases, we share a portion of the responsibility for developing design concepts; for improving on good ideas and killing off bad ones; for doing the technical work to optimize and verify the design; and in some cases also to contribute in meaningful ways to the final commercialization. Once commercialized, we have the opportunity to interact with surgeons who are using the devices, and hear from them the impact they are having on patient care. In some cases, we even receive this feedback directly from patients. This is why we do what we do, and it is great to be able to walk the complete path.
Do you have a tip for potential job seekers to help them in securing an interview/job?
The best tip I have is to try to establish personal connections – through networking at ORS meetings, for example, or other venues where you can be more than just a name on paper. The applicant pool seems to be growing always, and filtering based on what is seen on paper is imperfect. Making a personal connection so that you have an internal advocate can be a great benefit – it of course will not ensure you get a position, but it will help to ensure that you get an intentional review.